Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos survived an avalanche of teachers’ union-approved questions and even managed to turn the tables on Lesley Stahl in a segment on 60 Minutes Sunday.
“Why have you become, people say, the most hated cabinet secretary?” Stahl asked.
“I’m not so sure exactly how that happened. But I think there are a lot of really powerful forces allied against change,” DeVos said.
The rest of the interview demonstrated this point.
CBS News’ web account focused on DeVos’ visit last week to the high school in Florida where 17 people were shot to death, allegedly by a former student.
“Betsy DeVos visited the school in Florida on Wednesday, but like most everywhere else she goes, she faced criticism,” CBS News wrote on its website. “Some of the students sent out angry tweets. … Many of the students are frustrated at the administration for talking about school safety, but not acting.”
It quoted two tweets it presented as being from students. “Do something unexpected: Answer our questions,” tweeted Aly Sheehy. “You came to our school just for publicity and avoided our questions for the 90 minutes you were actually here. How about you actually do your job?”
The other came from Twitter user Alanna//NEVERAGAIN: “Betsy DeVos came to my school, talked to three people, and pet a dog,” it read. “This is in case the press tries to say something else later.”
The term “school safety” is disingenuous as well. It’s not school safety that’s being pushed; it’s gun control. And it’s probably not DeVos the students should be calling out. She asked – and Trump agreed – to head a commission on school safety that would assemble best practices and make recommendations to local systems.
“The reason Betsy DeVos wanted to be secretary of education was so she could promote school choice, offering parents options other than traditional public schools – where 90 percent of kids go,” CBS reported. “She has proposed massive cuts in public education funding and wants to shift billions to alternative players like private, parochial and charter schools.”
What DeVos has proposed is to cut funds to college lending programs that have trapped millions of Americans in generational debt and to cut federal money to local functions such as teacher training. The federal government does not direct spending to local schools – they are funded at the county and state levels.
DeVos advocates removing federal mandates, restoring local control and putting the government on the side of encouraging innovation, especially in failed school systems, that, yes, includes private, parochial and charter schools.
Stahl then tried to make the case public schools in the U.S. are improving.
“Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years,” she said. “It’s better than it was. That’s the point. You don’t acknowledge things have gotten better.”
“But I don’t think they have [gotten better] for too many kids. We’ve stagnated,” DeVos said.
But the case is strong that she is right about the need for reform. Since World War II, the number of students in American public schools has climbed by 96 percent, according to U.S. News.
But inflation-adjusted spending per student in American public schools has risen 663 percent, public school staff has increased 386 percent, the number of teachers climbed by 252 percent and the number of administrators by 700 percent.
More recently, enrollment has grown 19 percent from 1992 to 2014, but staff grew by 36 percent.
Meanwhile, math scores have been flat and reading scores have slightly decreased for 17-year-olds since 1992, and graduation rates are just a little ahead of where they were in 1970.
Stahl pressed the point again.
“Why take away money from that school that’s not working to bring them up to a level where they are — that school is working?”
“Well, we should be funding and investing in students, not in school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems.”